Italy's Mysterious 'Park of Monsters'

In the woods of the small Italian town of Bomarzo, about 42 miles north of Rome, a grotesque but fascinating series of surprises await visitors. About 20 rough-hewn sculptures have been carved from the rocks at a place colloquially known as Parco dei Mostri ("Park of Monsters"), where they have stood for more than 400 years. (The park's official name is the Sacred Wood of Bomarzo.)

The sculptures—a war elephant, an enormous fish, two giants dismembering each other—were commissioned by prince and patron of the arts Pier Francesco Orsini in 1552. Although Orsini’s precise motivations for creating the park have been lost to history, it’s often thought that the strange forms were his way of dealing with his grief after returning from a bloody war only to have his beloved wife die.

As Dylan Thuras of Atlas Obscura notes in the video above, the park was essentially abandoned after Orsini died in the 1580s. It fell into neglect until 1938, when Salvador Dalí stumbled upon it and fell in love. Dalí made a short film about the place, and it also inspired his 1946 painting The Temptation of Saint Anthony. (Jean Cocteau was also a big fan.) The park was restored in the 1950s, and has been alternately spooking and delighting visitors ever since. 

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The 10 Most Visited National Parks in 2019

Josiah Weiss, Unsplash
Josiah Weiss, Unsplash

The U.S. National Park System comprises more than 400 sites, 62 of which are national parks. Within the parks, visitors can explore forests, deserts, volcanoes, and more. But even with the diversity the National Park System has to offer, many visitors find themselves going to the same iconic parks year after year. To see the most-visited national parks in 2019, check out the list below.

This list comes from recreational visitation data gathered by the National Park Service. It doesn't include national monuments, parkways, or similar units—just the sites with the official "national park" designation.

The Great Smoky Mountains tops the list with roughly 12.5 million visits last year. Stretching across five counties in North Carolina and Tennessee, it's less than a day's drive away for one-third of the U.S. population. The accessibility plus the free admission and gorgeous mountain scenery help make it the country's most popular national park.

It's followed by Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park, which saw 5.97 million visits in 2019 to witness its world-famous views. Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park takes third place with 4.7 million visits, and Utah's Zion National Park takes fourth with 4.5 million. Read on for the full top 10.

The National Park Service was established just over a century ago, and it's amassed a fascinating history. Here are some more facts about the United States's national parks.

  1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  2. Grand Canyon National Park
  3. Rocky Mountain National Park
  4. Zion National Park
  5. Yosemite National Park
  6. Yellowstone National Park
  7. Acadia National Park
  8. Grand Teton National Park
  9. Olympic National Park
  10. Glacier National Park